“Two years ago, I would never be out driving at this time,” Esmeralda, the driver, told me. She and others from Autónoma are working on a project on how the public spaces in Juárez are slowly being reclaimed by the citizens.
“During the height of the violence from 2008 until 2011 or 2012, nobody went out at night unless they really had to or had some specific business. We had here in Juárez something that hadn’t really existed in the town’s history – people going home after work and spending time with their families.”
“There wasn’t a single thing that caused people to go out all of a sudden. The government made an effort to change perception. Government officials would go on the news and say that there was less violence – officials would parade statistics on the news saying there were fewer killings. And as people started to go out little by little, more people followed suit – and now, as you’ll see, families will be out on a Friday night once again.”
As the sun began to set, we started the night in an Applebee’s, a place where middle class Mexicans can afford to go. What is noticeable is that the prices are about the same as one might expect in El Paso, or even more, once you convert them to dollars. But when one considers that the minimum wage is around 200 bucks a month in Mexico, the prices at the chain restaurant appear to be downright exorbitant. The restaurant was reasonably well attended with groups of friends and couples enjoying their Friday night. There was even an American man amongst the crowd.
At 9p.m., we met up with some of the others in order to check out a strip that the city had spent millions to rehabilitate. We met at a billiards hall that was packed to capacity with college age people. We left to check out a row of clubs in the Zona Pronaf. Bouncers with thick necks and wrinkled faces sat at each club door, asking for our ID’s. At the first club, some of the males in the group were frisked before we entered to the promise of good music and atmosphere. But this club, like the parking lots across the way, was empty, so we left. The next three places had the same story albeit without the frisking – empty seats sat stagnantly in darkness. Americana decorated the walls in almost every location – a poster of a Rolling Stone magazine cover, a Confederate flag – as tunes played over thumping sound systems to empty dance floors.
It was time to meet the others again, so we decided to head back and check out the strip once more. The night life had started to pick up, and the bars had started playing tunes folks could sing along to, but these locations were far from busy.
It was already past midnight and some of us decided to go home. On the way back to the Paso del Norte Bridge, Esmeralda dropped off one of our colleagues. The roads, while well lit, were empty. Only on the main drags was there a hint of traffic. Downtown made Esmeralda nervous. She dropped me off a block from the bridge to give herself a chance to get out of the area cleanly. Stores were mostly closed though a few street vendors were still out.
I paid the toll and crossed over the bridge to El Paso. The other side was deserted as well. Only once, as I passed by the Union Plaza area, was I greeted with the familiar scene of drunk college kids acting foolishly in the wee hours of the morning.